Wednesday, July 27, 2011

They're Serious About Clean Streets

Leetsdale Police Officer Ed Cross prepares to issue a ticket to the driver of a vehicle found parked on the west side of Broad St. near Spencer St. when street sweeping parking restrictions are in effect. The borough sweeper is seen in the background. 7/27/2011 9:08 AM

Today is a day off from work, so before I walked the dog I moved my car from in front of the house to the other side of Broad St. so that the street sweeper can proceed unimpeded and I don't get a parking ticket, as there are laws in place designed to guarantee the sweeper a clear path to perform it's function.

While out with the dog, I noticed that the sweeper was out on Broad St. promptly at 9:00, when the parking restriction begins. I also noticed that some cars had yet to move. On the way back home, the white car in the above picture was preparing to pull away (after the sweeper had passed) when Officer Cross pulled his cruiser up behind it, wrote the ticket, and handed it to the driver. The sweeper, whose operator could have alerted the officer to the vehicle's presence, continued his route in the area.

I appreciate it that local government is serious enough about maintaining the physical character of its residential streets that it owns a sweeper, employs someone to operate it, and assures through ordinance and enforcement that the streets can be cleaned to some acceptable standard.

As I walked home, the sweeper kept to his route, the officer returned to patrol, and I finished walking the dog, stopping only to clean up after her and at least two other dogs whose owners had permitted to defecate in our yard, and left it for someone else to clean.

There is an ordinance prohibiting this, but I don't know if the police are manned, ready, or willing to swoop in on a dog owner whose charge has just left a deposit on someone else's property like they did with the vehicle blocking the street sweeper. There are places that have taken enforcement of this problem to what is arguably an extreme, but that's for another post.

It would be nice if some citizens were as diligent in cleaning up after their animals as the borough is in keeping the streets clean. Thanks, Leetsdale.

Enjoy the day.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Green Spaces -
Praise and Remembrance

I know we've come a long way
We're changing day to day
But tell me, where do
the children play?

When the Sewickley Herald reported at the end of June that greater-than-expected use of Leetsdale's Henle Park Splash Pad was causing some to question the free use of the facility by non-residents, it started me thinking about the nature of the land our area has preserved for the common good as community park space.

Last week's reporting on Sewickley Patch, which detailed an imminent imposition of a non-resident fee and the subsequent intervention of a private citizen to keep the pad free for all, brought the point home even further. Even after speaking with Borough Manager Paul Scimio about the specific problems that were reported with the pad's popularity, I wasn't convinced that the fee proposal was anything other than a hastily conceived band-aid that didn't address many logistical concerns, and would probably have created more problems than solutions.

The largesse of Donald Mappin Jr. of Atlantic Precious Metal Resources is certainly appreciated in the short term, but doesn't address other issues related to the increased use of the splash pad, such as upkeep of facilities, impact on traffic and parking in the area, and so on. I hope that his commitment is one that will be sustained for a good while. Hopefully this will give the borough breathing room and time to plan.

I do find it ironic that the splash pad's future as a free community resource is now hinged not only to the cost of water, but the price of gold as well.


I grew up frequenting many of the area parks; it didn't seem to matter to anyone where I lived. I thought about the expense in equipment, materials, and man-hours necessary to assure that these parks and their associated facilities don't fall into disrepair, and how important something as deceptively complex, taken for granted, yet tranquil and uplifting, is to our well-being as a community. This has been embellished even further considering some of the storm damage that occurred this week.

Most of my favorite park spaces have this feature in common - water running through it. Henle Park has a small stream running beneath it, but the splash pad was what truly linked water with what has been a staple of the Leetsdale community for as long as I've known it. This is equally true of other parks in the Sewickley area:

War Memorial Park, Sewickley

"Memorial" lost the fountain that was a feature when I was growing up, but in its place has added Hoey's Hideaway, a large playground area with a cushy rubber walking surface. This is apparently named after Hoey's Run, the stream that runs through the park. This area and the surrounding park area were enjoying heavy use on the day I visited. The park shelter is still there, as is the green area that runs up to the beginning of a hiking trail.

Walker Park, Edgeworth

With four shelters and lots of green space that borders Little Sewickley Creek, Walker is one of three Edgeworth parks worth mention here. Growing up, the park was a perfect place for a Sunday picnic, family gathering, or quiet time with your sweetie. The park is owned by Edgeworth, but sits partially in Leet Township.

Way Park, Edgeworth

When I was young, my father was a small business owner in the area of the Edgeworth School. In the summers I would sometimes spend the day with him, and this invariably took me to this little gem of a park in the center of everything that is Edgeworth and Sewickley. My peers that lived in the area would hit golf balls in this park. I love the stream flowing through the stone-lined channel, around the island, and under the bridge.

This park is popular with newlyweds for photos, and we were no exception. The park is meticulously maintained and clean. In winter, the solitary pine near the Meadow Lane / Beaver Road intersection, fully lit with small lights, is a poignant and beautiful symbol of the holiday season.

Morrow Pontefract Park, Edgeworth

This is my favorite green space, period. That's saying a lot for someone who has been out west a long time, but there is something about this place that feels very special.

I mention the park by name to people and sometimes get a blank stare. There are no signs for the park, even at the entrance from Beaver Road - do you really need one with this inviting view? I usually need to follow up with "the park by Quaker Village".

If you enter the park from the shopping center, you'll see these majestic old trees. The park from this side feels like what it actually represents - the boundary between the pastoral, rarefied setting of Edgeworth and the busy commercial and industrial center that is Leetsdale.

When I was a teenager, I would enter the park via a dirt trail at the end of Maple Lane, which puts you on the south side of Little Sewickley Creek. The creek bisects the park, but is shallow enough here to wade across in most areas if it suits you. There is a footbridge and a couple of memorial benches alongside the creek, including one in memory of Edgeworth Police Chief James Creese, who I was privileged to work for in the 90's.

Despite its proximity to Route 65, the railroad, and the shopping center, "Morrow Park" offers a place for quiet reflection and to enjoy a beautifully balanced natural setting.


At the same time I am waxing nostalgically about green spaces, our family is remembering someone who loved parks, especially the splash pad. We said goodbye to Michaela a year ago this week; she now rests in another beautiful green space, and we know that she is smiling from Heaven at all who loved and cared for her.

The photo below, and the video at the top, were taken at ACORD Park about a month before she died. It was a nice diversion from what was the routine at the time, back and forth to Children's for radiation treatments. We took lunch there, and spent a little time in the large playground and alongside Lowries Run, throwing stones into the creek. Simple yet profound activities, especially now that she is gone. Michaela, we miss you.

Michaela's determination to ride a pony at the 4th of July celebration in Henle Park last year, less than 2 weeks before she passed away, is something that Leslie told me she will always carry with her as an example of strength and bravery in the face of tremendous hardship. At times like these, we all need a little space to breathe, to reflect, to play, to pray.

Thank God for the beauty present on this Earth, and for those of His children who put forth their labor to see it preserved for the rest of us.

Have a good weekend.

Photo Credit: McMillen Photography - Ed Hughes (wedding party)

Monday, July 11, 2011

Responding to Change -
Consolidation Conversation

Police agencies from three separate jurisdictions respond to a minor, two-car non-injury traffic accident on Ohio River Blvd. at Quaker Village Shopping Center last month. Leetsdale Fire Dept. also responded.

As I've said before, trying to compare the manner in which local government is structured and managed in Colorado and Pennsylvania is a true exercise in "apples and oranges". As a result, I won't waste time or energy trying to match them alongside each other. The philosophies, practices, and laws which govern the operations and existence of these entities are just too different. This extends to the manner in which public safety services are provided.

Still, a recent story in the Grand Junction (Colo.) Daily Sentinel brought two interesting points to bear for me. First, it seemed to mark the first time that a major public official has publicly leveled criticism of the manner of the expansion of Grand Junction's city limits through annexations under the Persigo Agreement of 1998:

This situation has drawn some complaints from residents who question why they were annexed into the city of Grand Junction only to receive services from Clifton (Fire District), (Grand Junction Fire Chief Ken) Watkins said.

“I’ll be honest, it’s a total mess,” he said during a recent presentation to Grand Junction City Council. “There’s problems with assessment payments. Is this truly what we want as a community?”

What Chief Watkins referred to as "a total mess" has been that way for upwards of a decade now. At least the story highlighted efforts by two fire agencies to find opportunities for collaboration that will help assure excellent service delivery while reducing duplication of resources at the expense of the taxpayer. For the benefit of Pennsylvania readers, these fire and EMS agencies are tax-supported through local sales tax, property tax, or both.

They're having conversations about these things - that's a big first step.

The second point was Sentinel reporter Amy Hamilton's lead for the story. It's a question that gets asked in a lot of places, especially in a tough economy with dwindling municipal budgets, and it's a question I've heard get asked several times since I returned to Pennsylvania:
Does it make sense for multiple fire departments to coexist in one area? Is it necessary for neighboring communities to invest in similar equipment, build extra fire stations or even to pay the salaries of multiple fire chiefs?
While most of the fire companies protecting Pennsylvania are predominantly volunteer in nature, there is considerable local capital expended toward the purchase and maintenance of equipment and training of personnel, as well as the social and cultural position that volunteer fire departments hold in many communities as the center of activity, community gathering place, social club, evacuation center, and the list goes on.

Across the 4 1/2 miles between Sewickley and the Fair Oaks section of Leet Township, there are four independent volunteer fire departments. These agencies admirably cooperate and coordinate their activities in response to all manner and complexity of emergencies across their respective jurisdictions. They exist with their own membership requirements, operating standards, management structures, and boards of directors. Is this mutually dependent, yet organizationally independent existence necessary to provide adequate protection to the residents of the communities that depend upon them? Have conversations taken place about this?

You can also substitute the word "police" for "fire" in the above quote, and the question remains valid for many areas.

An example is the above photograph, which shows patrol units from three Quaker Valley-area police agencies at the scene of a minor traffic collision. Traffic control and investigative needs probably required the presence of those officers. Could they all be from the same agency, instead of several?

Many Pittsburgh-area municipalities such as Aleppo, Ben Avon, Emsworth, Kilbuck, Neville, and Richland have had the conversation, and decided that contracting with a larger neighboring department, or joining a regional police agency, is the way to go. Still others maintain their need for a locally administered police presence. Those conversations have apparently taken place, and the status quo was the result. There are reasons for this.

During a recent conversation with Leetsdale Police Chief James Santucci, he stated that his department is the busiest in the Quaker Valley area in terms of call volume. I had not thought about this previously, but it made immediate sense to me. Leetsdale is much more than a 'bedroom community' - the presence of the Buncher Commerce Park, Leetsdale Industrial Park, and Hussey Copper make it a workplace destination with the largest weekday population in the Quaker Valley. Add in QV's High School, and the borough's emergency management footprint is complex, and public safety needs potentially daunting.

Those needs have come to light many times over the years, with traffic crashes, train derailments, industrial accidents, and river emergencies presenting the entire area with protection and management challenges that are met head-on by the municipal alphabet soup that is local government in Pennsylvania.

Some in Harrisburg see these voluminous, yet sometimes tiny government entities as flies in the ointment of either responsible, efficient governance or some ulterior motive that their campaigns have been financed on (drilling ordinance, anyone?). They have attempted to legislate them out of existence, but their efforts have not been successful, for reasons that I believe relate to legislators not having conversations with those constituents actually doing the work.

Still, if you want an example of what the future might look like, you need look no further than those branches of public safety that are the youngest - Emergency Medical Services and Public Safety Communications. In both cases, economies of scale drive the streamlined nature of the organizations involved.

In the Quaker Valley, the municipal EMS authority board has representation from all 11 municipalities, but is operated by the Valley Ambulance Authority across the river. QV is different from Valley in that it levies a per capita fee; this, along with insurance reimbursement, make up the lion's share of operating revenue. Both authorities are in the midst of a donation campaign. It's a good investment, just like the fire department fish fry.

One big change when I was out west was the provision of enhanced 9-1-1 service to all of Allegheny County, and the gradual consolidation of communications centers that went along with it. This was driven by a mandate for consolidation by the state agency that oversees 9-1-1 provision, and controls allocation of revenue from the 9-1-1 surcharge that is levied on all telephone bills. No consolidation, no surcharge money. Simple enough.

Several municipalities have chosen to maintain their own dispatchers and communications centers, and receive calls from the county 9-1-1 center on a "ring down" basis. If the community at large feels that they receive better service this way, and they can afford it, more power to them. It's just another set of eyes, ears, and hands through which information must pass before a call for help is met by a tangible response.

Leetsdale, which used to obtain these services from Beaver County 9-1-1, opted for Allegheny County several years ago. The reason, according to Chief Santucci; "It's free". The borough saves about $22,000 per year in fees previously paid to the neighboring county - fees that Leet Township and Bell Acres Borough still pay for services that they are apparently satisfied with.

Weighing heavy in my head through all of this learning has been the clarion call of conservative groups and anti-tax/anti-big government activists, peppered with the angry voices on local talk radio, decrying the size and complexity of government at all levels. It's easy to heave brickbats in this way, but entirely a different thing to volunteer one's time to engage in the sometimes messy business of governance in a structure as complex as Pennsylvania.

Those who engage in this rhetoric need to learn something. Stop being what the marquee at Marroni's last week referred to as "those who know nothing doing it the loudest". I learned this:

No honest conversation about the size and complexity of government can take place without all levels of government, including local government and especially public safety, being on the agenda and at the table.

Have a good week ahead.